[A/N: Thanks to Maria Kelly for the picture prompt! (www.mariakellyauthor.com)]
Emily reached the top of the rise and stopped, wiping her brow and fumbling for the canteen at her hip. I could walk forever, she thought, if it keeps me away from the keyboard. She’d been used to cranking out stories almost as easily as McDonald’s made hamburgers – although I hope the stories were of higher quality than their food.
Lately though, every idea took major effort to bring to the surface. Emily estimated that she had somewhere between 25 and 50 “half-stories” on her USB drive, concepts that had seemed wonderful at first glance, but which petered out halfway through, inspiration drained away almost before she knew it.
A breeze moved across the meadow below her, the wind turning the grasses silver as they passed. It brought a faint smell of mown hay to her, reminding her of a childhood spent on the farm below, far away from the city that was her life now. I’m depressed – that’s what’s wrong. I thought I wanted to live away from here. I didn’t realize that a city life isn’t who I am. But I don’t know if I can ever come back.
She tugged the jacket tied around her waist loose, and turned to drop it on the ground, preparing to sit for a bit and think, when the wind moved the trees behind her.
Emily froze for a moment. I didn’t see that, did I? The wind blew again, and this time she was sure. The jacket fell, unheeded, as she moved cautiously toward the thing she had seen.
When she reached the spot, she moved the low-hanging branches. Sure enough, there, sitting in a small clearing behind the stand of aspens, was a stone statue. Of a – well, she wasn’t sure what to call it. A troll, maybe? She smiled, thinking of Tolkien. Turned to stone by daylight, I suppose. Emily walked around it. This is a pretty good sculpture, she thought, very detailed and realistic.
Once in front of it again, she studied the face.
Emily stumbled backwards in shock. “You did not just talk to me!” She shook her head. Okay, I’m worse off than I thought.
“You want idea?”
The statue’s lips didn’t move, but for a moment, the eyes seemed to shift, focus, and take her in.
No, that’s just the light. Statues don’t SEE.
“You want idea? Feed me.” This time, the eyes definitely moved. There was no question.
Emily poised to run. Remember what trolls eat? You!
“Not that feed,” she heard. “Not flesh.”
The troll’s eyes seemed to flash, and a look of deliberation, which made her very uncomfortable, settled in them.
“Feed me. Best thing in you. Little thing, little idea. Better thing, better idea.”
The best of me? “B-but. The best part of me is writing. If I give you that, what’s the point –“
“No. Best part. Remember!”
As though they had been pulled from her head and flung onto a screen in front of her, she watched her memories unroll. August nights, lying on the lawn, serenaded by cicadas, watching the stars. Walking on winter days, the air clear and crisp, the frozen meadow crunching under her feet. Running down the hill with friends, laughing in the rainstorm, full of life and joy. Autumn, beloved Autumn – the color of leaves strewn across hills like a carelessly dropped afghan. Good things, cherished things, what she dreamed of and held onto when living in a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of a big city where there was no real silence and no tranquility. My sanity, she thought desperately. How can I live without that?
Briefly, tantalizingly, she saw a novel, an idea, as insubstantial as those she sometimes had on the brink of sleep. An incredible concept, a novel that would move people, that would be discussed and remembered long after she was gone. It vanished suddenly and she was left with a few small fragments, just enough to tempt.
“Want idea? Give best.”
Emily teetered back and forth – the moment stretched on forever. Then she decided.
“Ms. Weeden?” The bookstore owner reached out an eager hand. “I can’t tell you what an honor it is to have you in our shop. Your book – I can’t begin to tell you how it moved me!”
Emily made a valiant attempt to smile. “Thank you truly.”
“Where did you get the idea?”
“Oh, where does any author get their ideas?”
They chatted briefly and then she settled in, in another small bookstore in another small town.
The publisher’s rep who had arranged the book tour found Emily easily distracted. Anyone else would be happy with such amazing success. However, Emily, he thought, was never quite focused on the book. She was distracted as if she kept watching for something she couldn’t quite see and listening to something just out of her hearing. Then he remembered something he’d meant to ask.
“This is the part of the country you came from, isn’t it? Was your town like this?”
For a moment, Emily was still. Then she smiled at him, but he thought it didn’t reach her eyes, which looked a bit blank. “Do you know, I can’t remember.”